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Khushwant Singh

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Khushwant Singh
BornKhushal Singh
(1915-02-02)2 February 1915
Hadali, Punjab Province, British India
(now in Punjab, Pakistan)
Died20 March 2014(2014-03-20) (aged 99)
New Delhi, India
OccupationLawyer, journalist, diplomat, writer, politician
Alma materGovernment College, Lahore (B.A.)
University of London (LL.B.)
Notable worksThe History of Sikhs
Train to Pakistan
Delhi: A Novel
The Company of Women
Truth, Love and a Little Malice: An Autobiography
With Malice towards One and All
Why I Supported the Emergency: Essays and Profiles
Khushwantnama, The Lessons of My Life
Punjab, Punjabis & Punjabiyat: Reflections on a Land and its People
The Mark of Vishnu and Other Stories
The Portrait of a Lady
Notable awardsRockefeller Grant
Padma Bhushan
Honest Man of the Year
Punjab Rattan Award
Padma Vibhushan
Sahitya Akademi Fellowship
All-India Minorities Forum Annual Fellowship Award
Lifetime Achievement Award
Fellow of King's College[2]
The Grove Press Award
RelativesSardar Sujan Singh (grandfather)
Lakshmi Devi (grandmother)
Sir Sobha Singh (father)
Viran Bai (mother)
Sardar Ujjal Singh (uncle)
Bhagwant Singh (brother)
Brigadier Gurbux Singh (brother)
Daljit Singh (brother)
Mohinder Kaur (sister)
Kanwal Malik (spouse)
Rahul Singh (son)
Mala (daughter)
Sir Teja Singh Malik (father-in-law)

Khushwant Singh FKC (born Khushal Singh, 2 February 1915 – 20 March 2014) was an Indian author, lawyer, diplomat, journalist and politician. His experience in the 1947 Partition of India inspired him to write Train to Pakistan in 1956 (made into film in 1998), which became his most well-known novel.[1][2]

Born in Punjab, Khushwant Singh was educated in Modern School, New Delhi, St. Stephen's College, and graduated from Government College, Lahore. He studied at King's College London and was awarded an LL.B. from University of London. He was called to the bar at the London Inner Temple. After working as a lawyer in Lahore High Court for eight years, he joined the Indian Foreign Service upon the Independence of India from British Empire in 1947. He was appointed journalist in the All India Radio in 1951, and then moved to the Department of Mass Communications of UNESCO at Paris in 1956. These last two careers encouraged him to pursue a literary career. As a writer, he was best known for his trenchant secularism,[3] humour, sarcasm and an abiding love of poetry. His comparisons of social and behavioural characteristics of Westerners and Indians are laced with acid wit. He served as the editor of several literary and news magazines, as well as two newspapers, through the 1970s and 1980s. Between 1980 and 1986 he served as Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Parliament of India.

Khushwant Singh was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1974;[4] however, he returned the award in 1984 in protest against Operation Blue Star in which the Indian Army raided Amritsar. In 2007, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award in India.[5]

Early life[edit]

Khushwant Singh was born in Hadali, Khushab District, Punjab (which now lies in Pakistan), in a Sikh family. He was the younger son of Sir Sobha Singh, who later witnessed against Bhagat Singh, and Veeran Bai. Births and deaths were not recorded in his time, and for him his father simply made up 2 February 1915 for his school enrollment at Modern School, New Delhi.[6] But his grandmother Lakshmi Devi asserted that he was born in August, so he later set the date for himself as 15 August.[1] Sobha Singh was a prominent builder in Lutyens' Delhi.[7] His uncle Sardar Ujjal Singh (1895–1983) was previously Governor of Punjab and Tamil Nadu.

His birth name, given by his grandmother, was Khushal Singh (meaning "Prosperous Lion"). He was called by a pet name "Shalee". At school his name earned him ridicule as other boys would mock him with an expression, "Shalee Shoolee, Bagh dee Moolee" (meaning, "This shalee or shoolee is the radish of some garden.") He chose Khushwant so that it rhymes with his elder brother's name Bhagwant.[8] He declared that his new name was "self-manufactured and meaningless". However, he later discovered that there was a Hindu physician with the same name, and the number subsequently increased.[9]

He entered the Delhi Modern School in 1920 and studied there till 1930. There he met his future wife, Kanwal Malik, one year his junior.[6] He studied Intermediate of Arts at St. Stephen's College in Delhi during 1930-1932.[10] He pursued higher education at Government College, Lahore, in 1932,[11] and got his BA in 1934 by a "third-class degree".[12] Then he went to King's College London to study law, and was awarded an LL.B. from University of London in 1938. He was subsequently called to the bar at the London Inner Temple.[13][14][15]


Khushwant Singh started his professional career as a practicing lawyer in 1939 at Lahore in the Chamber of Manzur Qadir and Ijaz Husain Batalvi. He worked at Lahore Court for eight years where he worked with some of his best friends and fans including Akhtar Aly Kureshy, Advocate, and Raja Muhammad Arif, Advocate. In 1947, he entered the Indian Foreign Service for the newly independent India. He started as Information Officer of the Government of India in Toronto, Canada, and moved on to be the Press Attaché and Public Officer for the Indian High Commission for four years in London and Ottawa. In 1951, he joined the All India Radio as a journalist. Between 1954 and 1956 he worked in Department of Mass Communication of the UNESCO at Paris.[16][17] From 1956 he turned to editorial services. He founded and edited Yojana,[18] an Indian government journal in 1951–1953; The Illustrated Weekly of India, a newsweekly;The National Herald.[19][20] He was also appointed as editor of Hindustan Times on Indira Gandhi's personal recommendation.[21]

During his tenure, The Illustrated Weekly became India's pre-eminent newsweekly, with its circulation raising from 65,000 to 400,000.[22] After working for nine years in the weekly, on 25 July 1978, a week before he was to retire, the management asked Singh to leave "with immediate effect".[22] A new editor was installed the same day.[22] After Singh's departure, the weekly suffered a huge drop in readership.[23] In 2016 Khushwant Singh enters Limca Book of Records as a tribute.[24]


Khushwant Singh meeting Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam before receiving the Padma Vibhushan.

From 1980 to 1986, Singh was a member of Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1974 for service to his country. In 1984, he returned the award in protest against the siege of the Golden Temple by the Indian Army.[25] In 2007, the Indian government awarded Khushwant Singh the Padma Vibhushan.[5]

As a public figure, Khushwant Singh was accused of favouring the ruling Congress party, especially during the reign of Indira Gandhi. When Indira Gandhi announced nation-wide-emergency, he openly supported it and was derisively called an 'establishment liberal'.[26]

Singh's faith in the Indian political system was shaken by the anti-Sikh riots that followed Indira Gandhi's assassination, in which major Congress politicians are alleged to be involved; but he remained resolutely positive on the promise of Indian democracy[27] and worked via Citizen's Justice Committee floated by H. S. Phoolka who is a senior advocate of Delhi High Court.

Singh was a votary of greater diplomatic relations with Israel at a time when India did not want to displease Arab nations where thousands of Indians found employment. He visited Israel in the 1970s and was impressed by its progress.[28]

Personal life[edit]

Khushwant Singh was married to Kanwal Malik. Malik was his childhood friend who had moved to London earlier. They met again when he studied law at King's College London, and soon got married.[2] They were married in Delhi, with Chetan Anand and Iqbal Singh as the only invitees.[29] Muhammad Ali Jinnah also attended the formal service.[30] They had a son, named Rahul Singh, and a daughter, named Mala. His wife predeceased him in 2001.[19] Actress Amrita Singh is the daughter of his brother Daljit Singh's son – Shavinder Singh and Rukhsana Sultana. He stayed in "Sujan Singh Park", near Khan Market New Delhi, Delhi's first apartment complex, built by his father in 1945, and named after his grandfather.[31]

Khushwant Singh at a reading in New Delhi.

Religious belief[edit]

Singh was a self-proclaimed agnostic, as the title of his 2011 book Agnostic Khushwant: There is no God explicitly revealed. He was particularly against organised religion. He was evidently inclined towards atheism, as he said, "One can be a saintly person without believing in God and a detestable villain believing in him. In my personalised religion, There Is No God!"[32] He also once said, "I don't believe in rebirth or in reincarnation, in the day of judgement or in heaven or hell. I accept the finality of death."[33] His last book The Good, The Bad and The Ridiculous was published in October 2013, following which he retired from writing.[34] The book was his continued critique of religion and especially its practice in India, including the critique of the clergy and priests. It earned a lot of acclaim in India.[35] Khushwant Singh had once controversially claimed that Sikhism was a form of "bearded Hinduism".[36]


Singh died of natural causes on 20 March 2014 at his Delhi residence, at the age of 99. The President, Vice-President and Prime Minister of India all issued messages honouring Singh.[37] He was cremated at Lodhi Crematorium in Delhi at 4 in the afternoon of the same day.[3] During his lifetime, Khushwant Singh was keen on burial because he believed that with a burial we give back to the earth what we have taken. He had requested the management of the Baháʼí Faith if he could be buried in their cemetery. After initial agreement, they had proposed some conditions which were unacceptable to Singh, and hence the idea was later abandoned.[38] He was born in Hadali, Khushab District in the Punjab Province of modern Pakistan, in 1915. According to his wishes, some of his ashes were brought and scattered in Hadali.[39]

In 1943 he had already written his own obituary, included in his collection of short stories Posthumous. Under the headline "Sardar Khushwant Singh Dead", the text reads:

We regret to announce the sudden death of Sardar Khushwant Singh at 6 pm last evening. He leaves behind a young widow, two infant children and a large number of friends and admirers. Amongst those who called at the late sardar’s residence were the PA to the chief justice, several ministers, and judges of the high court.[40]

He also prepared an epitaph for himself, which runs:

Here lies one who spared neither man nor God;
Waste not your tears on him, he was a sod;
Writing nasty things he regarded as great fun;
Thank the Lord he is dead, this son of a gun.[41]

He was cremated and his ashes are buried in Hadali school, where a plaque is placed bearing the inscription:

'This is where my roots are. I have nourished them with tears of nostalgia ...[42]'

Honours and awards[edit]

Literary works[edit]


  • The Mark of Vishnu and Other Stories, (short story collection) 1950[45]
  • The History of Sikhs, 1953
  • Train to Pakistan, (novel) 1956[45]
  • The Voice of God and Other Stories, (short story) 1957[45]
  • I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale, (novel) 1959[45]
  • The Sikhs Today, 1959[45]
  • The Fall of the Kingdom of the Punjab, 1962[45]
  • A History of the Sikhs, 1963[46][47]
  • Ranjit Singh: The Maharaja of the Punjab, 1963[45]
  • Ghadar 1915: India's first armed revolution, 1966[45]
  • A Bride of the Sahib and Other Stories, (short story) 1967[45]
  • Black Jasmine, (short story) 1971[45]
  • Tragedy of Punjab, 1984 (with Kuldip Nayar)[48]
  • The Sikhs, 1984[49]
  • The Collected Stories of Khushwant Singh, Ravi Dayal Publisher, 1989[50]
  • More Malicious Gossip, 1989 (collection of essays)[51]
  • Delhi: A Novel, (Novel) 1990[45]
  • Sex, Scotch & Scholarship, 1992 (collection of essays)[52]
  • Not a Nice Man to Know: The Best of Khushwant Singh, 1993[45]
  • We Indians, 1993[45]
  • Women and Men in My Life, 1995[45]
  • Declaring Love in Four Languages, by Khushwant Singh and Sharda Kaushik, 1997[53]
  • The Company of Women, (novel) 1999[45]
  • Big Book of Malice, 2000, (collection of essays)[54]
  • India: An Introduction, 2003[55]
  • Truth, Love and a Little Malice: An Autobiography, 2002[56]
  • With Malice towards One and All[57]
  • The End of India, 2003[45]
  • Burial at the Sea, 2004[45]
  • A History of the Sikhs, 2004 (2nd edition)[58]
  • Paradise and Other Stories, 2004[45]
  • A History of the Sikhs: 1469–1838, 2004[59]
  • Death at My Doorstep, 2004[56]
  • A History of the Sikhs: 1839–2004, 2005[60]
  • The Illustrated History of the Sikhs, 2006[45]
  • Land of Five Rivers, 2006[61]
  • Why I Supported the Emergency: Essays and Profiles, 2009[45]
  • The Sunset Club, (novel) 2010[62]
  • Gods and Godmen of India, 2012[63]
  • Agnostic Khushwant: There is no God, 2012[64]
  • The Freethinker's Prayer Book and Some Words to Live By, 2012[65]
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ridiculous, 2013 (co-authored with Humra Qureshi)[56]
  • Khushwantnama, The Lessons of My Life, 2013[66]
  • Punjab, Punjabis & Punjabiyat: Reflections on a Land and its People, 2018 (posthumously compiled by his daughter Mala Dayal)[67]

Short story[edit]

  • The Portrait of a Lady[68]
  • The Strain[69]
  • Success Mantra[69]
  • A Love Affair in London[69]
  • The Wog[70]
  • The Portrait of a Lady: Collected Stories (2013)[56]


Television Documentary: Third World—Free Press (also presenter; Third Eye series), 1983 (UK).[71]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Sengupta, Somini (20 March 2014). "Khushwant Singh, provocative Indian journalist, dies at 99". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  2. ^ a b Subramonian, Surabhi (20 March 2014). "India's very own literary genius Khushwant Singh passes away, read his story". dna. Diligent Media Corporation Ltd. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  3. ^ a b TNN (20 March 2014). "Khushwant Singh, journalist and writer, dies at 99". The Times of India. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  4. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 October 2015. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  5. ^ a b TNT (28 January 2008). "Those who said no to top awards". The Times of India. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  6. ^ a b Singh, Rahul (2008). "The Man in the Light Bulb: Khushwant Singh". In Dharker, Anil (ed.). Icons: Men & Women Who Shaped Today's India. New Delhi: Lotus Collection, an imprint of Roli Books. ISBN 978-81-7436-612-2.
  7. ^ Singh, Ranjit (2008). Sikh Achievers. New Delhi: Hemkunt Publishers. p. 168. ISBN 978-8-17-01036-53.
  8. ^ Singh, Khushwant (19 February 2001). "The Kh Factor". Outlook. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  9. ^ Singh, Khushwant (25 November 2006). "DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 18 May 2015. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  10. ^ Singh, Khushwant (2000). "Forward". In Chatterji, Lola (ed.). The Fiction of St. Stephen's. New Delhi: Ravi Dayal Publisher. pp. v–vi. ISBN 81-7530-030-2. OCLC 45799950.
  11. ^ "The Tribune, Chandigarh, India – Khushwant Singh 1915 — 2014 Selected Columns". The Tribune. Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  12. ^ Massey, Reginald (20 March 2014). "Khushwant Singh obituary". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  13. ^ Vinita Rani, "Style and Structure in the Short Stories of Khushwant Singh. A Critical Study. Archived 12 August 2012 at the Wayback Machine", PhD Thesis
  14. ^ Singh, Khuswant (2000). Bhattacharjea, Aditya; Chatterji, Lola (eds.). The Fiction of St. Stephen's. New Delhi: Ravi Dayal Publisher. p. v. ISBN 978-8-17-53003-09.
  15. ^ a b c "Khushwant Singh awarded Fellowship". King's College London. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  16. ^ Press Trust of India (20 March 2014). "Khushwant Singh could easily switch roles from author to commentator and journalist". The Indian Express. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  17. ^ a b c d e "Life and times of Khushwant Singh l". India Today. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  18. ^ "Yojana". Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  19. ^ a b PTI (20 March 2014). "Khushwant Singh, renowned author and journalist, passes away". The Economic Times. Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  20. ^ a b "Khushwant Singh, 1915-". The South Asian Literary Recording Project. The Library of Congress (New Delhi). 2016. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  21. ^ Dev, Atul. "History repeating at Shobhana Bhartia's Hindustan Times". The Caravan. Retrieved 3 May 2020.
  22. ^ a b c Khushwant Singh (1993). "Farewell to the Illustrated Weekly". In Nandini Mehta (ed.). Not a Nice Man To Know. Penguin Books. p. 8. On 25 July 1978, one week before he was to retire, he was abruptly asked to leave with immediate effect. Khushwant quietly got up, collected his umbrella, and without a word to his staff, left the office where he had worked for nine years, raising the Illustrated Weekly's circulation from 65,000 to 400,000. The new editor was installed the same day, and ordered by the Weekly's management to kill the "Farewell" column.
  23. ^ "Khushwant Singh's Journalism: The Illustrated Weekly of India". Sepiamutiny.com. 4 August 2006. Retrieved 9 August 2009.
  24. ^ "Tribute – Khushwant Singh". Limca Book of Records. Archived from the original on 8 August 2016. Retrieved 20 June 2016.
  25. ^ "Those who said no to top awards". The Times of India. 20 January 2008. Retrieved 5 November 2008.
  26. ^ "Why I Supported Emergency | Outlook India Magazine". Outlook India. Retrieved 3 May 2020.
  27. ^ Singh, Khushwant, "Oh, That Other Hindu Riot of Passage," Outlook Magazine, November, 07, 2004, available at [1]
  28. ^ Singh, Khushwant (18 October 2003). "THIS ABOVE ALL : When Israel was a distant dream". The Tribune. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
  29. ^ Singh, Khushwant (2000). Khushwant Singh's Big Book of Malice. New Delhi: Penguin Books. p. 126. ISBN 0-14-029832-0. OCLC 45420301.
  30. ^ Singh, Khushwant (2000). Khushwant Singh: An Icon of Our Age. Jiya Prakashan. p. 79.
  31. ^ "Making history with brick and mortar". Hindustan Times. 15 September 2011. Archived from the original on 5 December 2012.
  32. ^ Nayar, Aruti. "Staring into The Abyss: Khushwant Singh's Personal Struggles With Organized Religion". sikhchic.com. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  33. ^ Khuswant, Singh (16 August 2010). "How To Live & Die". Outlook.
  34. ^ "Veteran Writer and Novelist Khushwant Singh passes away at 99". news.biharprabha.com. Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  35. ^ Tiwary, Akash (21 March 2014). "Khushwant Singh's demise bereaves India of its most articulate agnostic". The Avenue Mail. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  36. ^ Arora, Subhash Chander (1990). Turmoil in Punjab Politics. Mittal Publications. p. 188. ISBN 9788170992516.
  37. ^ "President, Prime Minister of India condole Khushwant Singh's Demise". news.biharprabha.com. Indo-Asian News Service. Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  38. ^ "Excerpt: How To Live & Die". Outlook India. Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  39. ^ Aijazuddin, F. S. (24 April 2014). "Train to Pakistan: 2014". Dawn. Pakistan.
  40. ^ Singh, Khushwant (16 October 2010). "How To Live & Die". Outlook. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  41. ^ PTI (20 March 2014). "Here lies one who spared neither man nor God: Khushwant's epitaph for himself". The Hindu. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  42. ^ Masood, Tariq (15 June 2014). "Khushwant Singh: The final homecoming". The Express Tribune. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  43. ^ Mukherjee, Abishek (20 March 2014). "Khushwant Singh and the cricket connection". The Cricket Country. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  44. ^ "Akhilesh honours Khushwant-Singh". The Times of India. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  45. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t "Khushwant Singh". Open University. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  46. ^ Singh, Khushwant (1963). A History of the Sikhs. Princeton University Press.
  47. ^ Broomfield, J. H. (1964). "A History of the Sikhs . Khushwant Singh". The Journal of Modern History. 36 (4): 439–440. doi:10.1086/239500. ISSN 0022-2801.
  48. ^ Bobb, Dilip (15 November 1984). "Book reviews: 'Tragedy of Punjab' and 'Bhindranwale, Myth and Reality'". India Today. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  49. ^ Nath, Aman (15 June 1984). "Book review: Khushwant Singh's 'The Sikhs'". India Today. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  50. ^ Singh, Khushwant (2005). The Collected Short Stories of Khushwant Singh. Orient Blackswan. ISBN 978-81-7530-044-6.
  51. ^ Singh, Khushwant (18 September 2006). More Malicious Gossip. Harper Collins. ISBN 978-93-5029-290-7.
  52. ^ Singh, Khushwant (2004). Sex, Scotch And Scholarship. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-81-7223-469-0.
  53. ^ "Poetic Injustice". Outlook India. 6 February 2022. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  54. ^ Singh, Khushwant (2000). Khushwant Singh's Big Book of Malice. Penguin Books India. ISBN 978-0-14-029832-1.
  55. ^ Singh, Khushwant (2003). India: An Introduction. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-81-7223-548-2.
  56. ^ a b c d "Khushwant Singh's 10 most talked about books". The Times of India. 20 March 2014. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  57. ^ "With Malice Towards One and All: Best of Khushwant's columns". Hindustan Times. 20 March 2014. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  58. ^ Singh, Khushwant (1966). A History of the Sikhs (2 ed.). Princeton University Press.
  59. ^ Singh, Khushwant (2004). A History of the Sikhs: 1469–1838 (2, illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 434. ISBN 9780195673081. Retrieved 7 July 2009.
  60. ^ Singh, Khushwant (2005). A History of the Sikhs: 1839–2004 (2, illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 547. ISBN 978-0195673098. Retrieved 7 July 2009.
  61. ^ "The Sunday Tribune - Books". The Tribune. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  62. ^ Haider, Raana (2 June 2018). "A Review of The Sunset Club". The Daily Star. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  63. ^ Singh, Khushwant (2003). Gods and Godmen of India. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-81-7223-533-8.
  64. ^ "The Sunday Tribune - Books". The Tribune. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  65. ^ "Book excerpt: The Freethinker's Prayer Book". Hindustan Times. 12 October 2012. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  66. ^ "Khushwantnama". Free Press Journal. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  67. ^ "New book brings together Khushwant Singh's best on Punjab and its people". The Times of India. 16 August 2018. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  68. ^ "Review: The Portrait of a Lady by Khushwant Singh - Travelling Through Words". 22 June 2016. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  69. ^ a b c "The collected short stories of Khushwant Singh". worldcat.org. 1989. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  70. ^ "Khushwant Singh's "The Wog" Free Essay Example". StudyMoose. 18 March 2017. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  71. ^ "Third Eye: Third World – Free Press?". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 22 March 2014. Retrieved 21 March 2014.


External links[edit]